Review: Not Scientists – Destroy to Rebuild

You don’t often here of punk from France. Maybe France isn’t a very punk place. Maybe the British as a people aren’t as open to French punk as we are American punk or Scandinavian metal. Maybe we just haven’t noticed we’ve been listening to French punk for years. Not Scientists are a punk band from France, and had they not started their press release with this titbit of information, I would have been none the wiser. Destroy to Rebuild is their first album and it showcases a band with plenty of potential, and a few excellent tunes to back it up.

The LP begins with ‘Window’, which slowly builds with layer upon layer of distorted, reverb drenched guitars before a huge drum fill brings the whole band in. It has a summery feel and catchy vocal refrains. The whole thing is punctuated with woah-oh’s and comes across like a lo-fi Foo Fighters. Lo-Fighters maybe?

Next up is ‘I’m Brain Washing You’ which firstly, has a great title, and secondly sounds like a fantastic, previously unheard Against Me! jam. It is a pretty standard pop-punk tune but what really lifts it is the weaving, melodic guitar solo.

This is an album which is not afraid to where it’s influences readily upon its sleeve. There are touches of Bad Religion in ‘Broken Pieces’, Rise Against-style vocals in ‘These Heads Have No Faces’ and the aforementioned Against Me! in the album highlight ‘Disconnect The Dots’. The album’s closing salvo, ‘Barricade’, comes down somewhere between At The Drive-In and Blink 182, which is a weird crossover you didn’t know you wanted to hear, but it works and it is impressive.

Overall, Destroy to Rebuild contains some really cool moments but some of the tunes are a little too carbon-copy-close to this band’s inspirations to really stand up on their own. When Not Scientists do something a little bit out of the ordinary, as on the reggae-flavoured ‘Wait’, it all comes together, and this band show they can be phenomenal. What Destroy to Rebuild offers is a whistle-stop tour of modern punk without a convincing identity of its own. There are glimpses of something interesting here though, and this is a band who will only get better.

3 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Patrons – The Momentary Effects of Sunlight [EP]

UK-based hardcore outfit Patrons are a band to remember if their self-released second EP The Momentary Effects of Sunlight is anything to go by. The new EP is small and subtle, standing only at four tracks, but they’re four tracks exploding with passion and technical ability from a band who are promising to carve their initials firmly into the heart of the hardcore scene. While large parts of the EP could comfortably be called melodic rock, Patrons manage to bring a variety of different sounds and influences into this short space. Elements of punk are not hard to hear, with some emo and progressive sounds coming to the fore as well.

The intro works to lure you in with simple string-work and gentle vocals, slowly building the momentum until the chorus hits you with the volume turned up to max, the hooks come flying in and the vocals get a hell of a lot more gruff and aggressive. With the exception of the single line of vocals screamed while standing back from the mic (a technique I still fail to understand the point of), opening track ‘Lost Age’ really delivers as a crafted entry into the alternative/hardcore genre. From the teasing beginning to the funky breakdown and powerful reoccurring outro, Patrons are right on the money here.

‘Circus’ kicks in a lot faster and it is here that I start to hear why there have been comparisons to Thrice and Biffy Clyro thrown around. There are a lot of the same melodic rock sounds dominating, as the last minute or so takes over and steals the show again with a quality breakdown closing out in riffs and crashing cymbals. The only criticism would be that in such a short EP, is it different enough from the first track? It slides smoothly from clean guitars and vocals into a crunching wall of heaviness – just as ‘Lost Age’ did – but little else is on offer.

So what we need is something a bit different… Enter third track ‘Old Rain’. The song may be short, but it is full of riffs and hooks. The track is simpler than the first two, with a more consistent tempo which helps the vocals take centre stage. Even after the first listen it is clear that ‘Old Rain’ has the potential to be a fan favourite, with emo-esque lyrics of standing tall despite all of the pain life throws at you.

Patrons end the EP with the sort of song usually reserved for full length releases; a seven-minute epic of passionate vocals and even more melodic riffs: ‘Blood Symphony’ is a pretty darn good note to end on. It does follow a similar clean-to-dirty formula as the first two tracks, but it brings enough variety in to keep the listener interested for the whole song. Technically it doesn’t try to overcomplicate things and become two-songs-in-one, but it provides enough avoid the trap of sounding too ‘samey’ and going on for too long. It provides a balance of lyrically ‘releasing anger’ and ‘building up confidence’, another pretty emo trait, closing out happy in the knowledge that this song will get stuck in your head.

As far as EPs go, The Momentary Effects of Sunlight is a solid release which shows more than a glimpse of what this band is capable of. They’re not breaking down the boundaries of hardcore, but by introducing other influences they manage to craft a refreshing sound which makes it easy to see why Patrons have caught the attention of many different publications so far this year.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: The Kimberly Steaks – Chemical Imbalance [EP]

I think I might have a new favourite band. And if you’re hankering for a four-track EP that’s under ten minutes long with gnarly basslines and sweet guitar solos, or an EP that sounds a little bit like the good side of Green Day before they decided to go all rock opera, then Chemical Imbalance by The Kimberly Steaks might just be your new favourite band too.

Chemical Imbalance is approximately seven and a half minutes long. In those seven and a half minutes, it manages to achieve far more than most other releases you’ll hear this year – it’ll actually make you fucking smile. Which is not what you’d probably expect from a Glaswegian punk band, but nonetheless, it’s there. It’s not a trainride into Nostalgia City Station, because this EP is timeless – even if it takes you less time to listen to it than to finish reading your Tumblr feed in a morning. From the first heady bass tremble in ‘Chemical Imbalance’ to the cheesy keyboard outro in ‘Something Good’, The Kimberly Steaks have managed to create something fantastic. There’s harmonies galore throughout, especially in ‘Ticking Over’ – an ode to getting by. ‘Change Your Mind’ is the longest track on the EP, and also the slowest. However, it’s a slice of glorious four-chord punk from start to finish, the likes of which will have you itching to pick up that guitar that’s lying in the corner.

In a world full of thrashy hardcore and gruff, beardy punk, we need something light-hearted and irreverent, yet still actually good and vaguely meaningful to help us keep the balance – that’s where the Kimberly Steaks come in. Every song is perfectly structured into little bursts of irresistible punk rock dynamism, and you won’t find a tighter record with as much feeling as this all year. Pick this up on 16 March and experience joy in its purest form, which as it turns out, is sarcastic-as-fuck pop-punk from Glasgow.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Notes from the Keybed – This Month In Synths [February 2015]

February… a month of romance for some, regret for others, and raging synth riffage for the rest of us!

This month saw the release of a new single from West Midlands four-piece Shatter Effect. We’ve been keeping an eye on these dance-rockers for the past couple of years following ace tracks such as ‘Rebecca’ (check out the incredible video, indie bands – that’s how it’s done!) and ‘Find What You Love’. Their latest single ‘Make Me Hate You’ continues the trend of dark lyrical content, ice cold keyboard textures, and fuzzed up guitar riffs. A more industrial affair than before, with synth arpeggios straight out of the 80’s, matched with tom-heavy drums and the twin vocal attack of Rebecca and Robin Davies. The single is the first offering from the band’s debut album ‘We Are Warriors’, which will undoubtedly be a banger – we can’t wait!

If there is one unfortunate musical trend we’ve noticed lately it’s that keyboard players seem to be disappearing, only to be replaced by a laptop, audio player, or even (sorry soundmen) a phone. There’s a whole article to be written about this, starting with Black Sabbath hiding their keyboardist under the stage, but as live music gets more polished and accurate to the record, it runs the risk of losing character. Who cares if there are six-part vocal harmonies and a string section on your indie trio’s EP? The live experience is supposed to be different, to be raw, and, above all else, ‘live’. So here’s a heartfelt plea to bin the backing, chuck out the click, and go off the track!

Given the above, it is always a joy when a band bucks this unnerving trend, especially in unexpected circumstances like the one we found ourselves in recently. To set the scene, it’s your standard five-band punk rock / indie night at Cheltenham music’s local hangout The Frog & Fiddle, with the usual mix of local and touring bands. Mary Fields were a last minute addition to the bill, coming all the way from the Netherlands, which immediately peaked interest. So when they cracked out not just a keyboard but also an entire organ (how the hell do you transport that overseas?! – answers on a postcard please) it was clear that this wasn’t going to be your average noise-rock spaz-core band… if there is such a thing. With half the group setting up off-stage amongst the audience, they proceeded to launch from a quick line-check into an a capella version of Whitney’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ before shifting straight into full on Rolo Tomassi / Dillinger Escape Plan-style math-outs! Keyboardist Chris Greevink went from surprisingly proficient jazz piano playing to rolling about screaming in the space of a single song, peppered with some creative effects trickery throughout. Their short but sweaty set surely left everyone watching gobsmacked. Definitely a ‘marmite’ band, as with any noise band, but you owe it to your badass self to check them out if they roll that organ up your way in the future. You can also download their mini album ‘Flawless Victory Over Movement’ from Bandcamp, where you’ll find intricate song structures, strong vocals, and impressive musicianship on display amongst the chaos.

From one bizarre occurrence to another, the Internet was well and truly won for me this month by the appearance of a Vine featuring a headband-wearing busker with a seemingly limited vocabulary and some sweet keyboard dancing skills. Stephen Paul Taylor, or to use his nom-de-artiste SPT, is a 40-year old Canadian musician who entertains / terrorises – depending on your point of view – the streets of Berlin with his one-man keyboard band. The Vine in question is his song ‘Everybody Knows Shit’s Fucked’, a synth-pop protest about how everything is, like, totally screwed maaan. Once you get over the initial hilarity of the chorus it’s a genuinely catchy song, with more interesting lyrics than the Vine gives him credit for, and a cracking keyboard hook! If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering which 80’s anthem it was lifted from before realising that it’s entirely his own work and that his album ‘People Tonight’ is full of similarly catchy tunes. It won’t win any prizes for production as the overall aesthetic is charmingly DIY, with the sort of cheesy midi drums you might remember from school music classes (you know, those keyboards with the DJ button… hours of fun). It reminds this listener of not just 80’s pop masters like Eurythmics and Human League, but also the oddness of Talking Heads and an inevitable German dose of Kraftwerk. It might not be everyday listening, but if you like your synth pop to come with a side order of silly and a smattering of expletives, or just fancy something you won’t find elsewhere in your music library, then it is worth heading over to his Bandcamp for a listen. Whilst you’re there you might as well chuck him a quid for the ‘shit fuck’ song at least!

To finish, I want to award SPT with this month’s Keytar Hero title, despite not being able to find a picture online of him with one, you just know he has one in his closet… all together now, ‘everybody knows shit! fuck!’

Review: Darwin & The Dinosaur – A Thousand Ships

You know how all of the good rock bands say that they’re fuelled by a near-lethal concoction of sex, drugs, and booze, yeah? Well, no, actually, because today we’ve got a ‘delightfully British’ helping for you all in the form of Darwin and the Dinosaur (D&tD), a band who keep their energy levels topped up with a not-so-dangerous mix of pot noodles, tea, and biscuits. What could be more British than tea, biscuits, and rock’n’roll eh? I like them already.

These guys sound like some sort of nerdy dream, you say? Well you haven’t heard anything yet. Calling Norwich home (a city with a castle and two cathedrals … they seem pretty proud about that), the band promises energetic shows filled to the brim with ‘dad-jokes’. D&tD’s drummer, Joe, runs the N.L.A – Norfolk L.A.R.P (Live Action Role Playing) Association, while the guitarist and backing vocalist, Steve, has apparently appeared as a supporting actor in every single Harry Potter film.

Nerd heaven.

Oh, that isn’t enough for you? Well I should probably let you know about their debut album A Thousand Ships which is being released in March (and in case you’re not excited yet, they have a freakin’ narwhal on the album sleeve! You know the one, the unicorns of the sea, with the most impressive but pointless horns in the animal kingdom). With a range of influences from Thrice to Fleetwood Mac, the four-piece Norwich outfit give a stellar account of themselves in this full-length debut (but we always knew they would – take a look at when we checked out their 2012 EP here).

Vocalist, Alan Hiom, provides far softer vocals than you usually get from similar bands. He also manages to keep a hold of some British pronunciation, showing you don’t have to bow to every Americanism in order to get a kick-ass sound. This blend of vocals is actually a pretty good metaphor for the entire album, which manages to capture a diverse range of styles and genres without ever sounding over-ambitious or confused. In fact the production is completely squeaky clean (without being over-edited).

One track which captures this variety of styles is ‘Hand in Hand’, with infectious verses, which are still stuck in my head, and a bouncing, ‘popping and punking’ chorus. The ability to seamlessly switch between the heavier metal-inspired instrumentals to a more pop-punk sound (as well as plenty in between) is a real highlight of the LP. The whole album conveys great technical skill, well crafted melodies, and a whole load of emotion.

A special mention has to go to ‘Riff Town Population – You’, which is quite simply a fantastic track. There is wonderful grit about it, sounding like a shout-out to great British rock acts of the past, and it sounds like a song pulled straight from the live scene. As one of the heavier songs to feature on the album, it also keeps a great melodic core, boasting D&tD’s dynamic range of talents and influences. I can certainly hear elements of Hundred Reasons and Reuben in there, while they create a sound of their own as well. Serious kudos for these guys.

A Thousand Ships has a great feel to it as an album. Some bands’ debut releases can smash into a cliff-face when they sacrifice the feel of a a whole album by just throwing together the best tracks they can record without a thought for how they go together; others get sucked into a vapid maelstrom when they spend too much time concentrating on the ‘overall sound’ and fail to deliver any stand out songs. D&tD manage to sail A Thousand Ships between these threats. It’s heavy, loud, and fast, but it also has a melodic chilled-out element in the middle.

What more can we say? You need to check these chaps out.

4 out of 5 high fives!